Monday, February 22, 2010

Why Giants Fans Shouldn't Miss Tim Alderson (Too Much at Least)

This is not a defense of the Freddy Sanchez for Tim Alderson trade last July Trade Deadline. Even though I liked Sanchez at the time of the trade, I admit, it was a horrible transaction by Giants general manager Brian Sabean in retrospect.

First off, Sanchez wasn't going to make that much of a difference to the lineup. The Giants needed someone with plate patience or run-producing power and Sanchez unfortunately provided neither. (In reality, he was pretty much Juan Uribe with a better glove and more "gamer" status, but without Uribe's power).

Secondly, and most importantly, he was hurt when he arrived to San Francisco. In fact, he was beyond hurt: he was used and damaged goods and Sabean ignored it because he was desperate to make a trade and didn't want to get waylayed by Giants fans because he couldn't get a deal done by the Deadline. Here's how I figured the conversation transpired between Sanchez's physical examiner and Sabean on July 31.

Physical Examiner: We might have found some problems with Freddy, Mr. Sabean. It's possible there are some big-time shoulder issues as well as knee issues. If we were you, we wouldn't make this trade.

Sabean: Are you kidding? How bad is all that?

Physical Examiner: Well...he might need a couple of surgeries in the next couple of months.

Sabean: Just a couple? Osvaldo Fernandez had 30! Two is nothing! We'll take it.

Physical Examiner: But if Sanchez isn't healthy...he's not going to play very much down the stretch, let alone play well. Mr. Sabean, as a Doctor, I must say...

Sabean: Listen "Doctor," if that is your real name, you don't tell me what to do. I make the call on executive decisions you hear me? I didn't get us to the 2002 World Series for nothing. Now, are you going to pass Sanchez or not?

Physical Examiner: No.


Sabean: What if I give you free season tickets in one of the MVP Boxes?

Physical Examiner: Is free booze included?

Sabean: You bet your butt it is.

Physical Examiner: He's healthy. Good luck with your run to the postseason Mr. Sabean!

So, as you can see, the trade was dumb. No one can excuse or pardon Sabean for making such a deal, especially when it was obvious Sanchez wasn't 100 percent.

That being said, I'm not exactly in the mindset that losing Alderson was the end of the world for Giants fans.

For starters, I don't know if Alderson can live up to his incredible hype.

It's one thing for Madison Bumgarner. Ever since Bumgarner was drafted there has been massive hype surrounding him (especially concerning whether or not he should be in the starting rotation to begin the season). There is good reason for Bumgarner's hype though: he for the most part has proven it on the field.

He proved it last Spring Training when he mowed down Juan Pierre and Manny Ramirez.

He proved it through his dominance of hitters in Single-A San Jose and Double-A Connecticut.

He proved it with a solid, though not spectacular, start and some innings of relief work with the Giants last season.

Thus, it is reasonable why their is such high expectations for Bumgarner.

As for Alderson though, it's a lot trickier. Ever since high school there has been incredible hype about the tall right-hander from Scottsdale, Arizona. In fact, according to's Matt Remsberg, Alderson was rated the 11th best high school prospect in 2007.

To make things more startling, according to Remsberg, he was ranked four slots higher than Bumgarner in 2007.

(I know...pessimistic Giants fans are slamming their heads against a wall saying "It's Francisco Liriano, Boof Bonser and Joe Nathan all over again!" Please let me finish though before you guys lose consciousness.)

Why was Alderson such a highly-rated prospect? Two reasons really:

1.) Impeccable control (he walked only four batters his senior season).
2.) International success (he was a member of the Silver-Medal winning United States team at the IBAF World Junior Championships in 2007).

So, it's understandable to see why Alderson was such a hot commodity and why he was drafted by the Giants in the first round along with Bumgarner (though he came after Bumgarner in the draft).

That being said, despite those high credentials, it is debatable whether or not Alderson will succeed at the Major League level.

Now, I'm not throwing him in to Todd Van Poppel or Kurt Ainsworth level yet, but there were several warning signs concerning Alderson's future from his tenure in Single-A and Double-A last season.

1.) Low K/9 numbers and an increase in hits given up put him behind Bumgarner.

Alderson had a great rookie campaign in 2007 in the Arizona Rookie league where he struck out 12 batters, gave up only four hits and didn't allow a single walk in five innings pitched. (Those kinds of numbers, though rookie league, proved point number one from above: he had EXCELLENT control).

He followed up the solid rookie league performance with an even more sterling 2008 in San Jose. In 145.1 IP, Alderson struck out 124 batters and only gave up 125 hits and 34 walks. His rates were equally impressive: 7.68 K/9 rate, 3.65 K/BB ratio, 1.09 WHIP, 2.64 FIP.

However, in 2009, some interesting things began to happen: his strikeouts went down and he suddenly became a whole lot more hittable.

In 26 IP, Alderson gave up 31 hits and only struck out 20 batters, producing a strikeout rate of only 6.92 (almost one less from 2008). And, even though his walk rate and his K/BB ratio (6.67) remained stellar (1.04, courtesy of only 3 walks in 26 IP), his WHIP proved to be remarkedly higher from a year ago (1.31) as was his ERA and FIP (4.15 and 4.12, respectively).

Despite the shaky numbers in San Jose, it didn't stop the Giants from promoting him to Double-A Connecticut after five outings. Despite the vote of confidence from the Giants' brass, Alderson didn't do much better with the Defenders.

In 13 outings and 72.2 IP, Alderson continued to show great control (1.73 walk rate, 3.29 K/BB ratio) and not much else. His strikeout rate declined in Double-A to 5.70, and though his WHIP and FIP numbers improved (to 1.24 and 3.53), they certainly weren't "elite" by any measure.

To make matter worse, Alderson's left-handed counterpart, Bumgarner, was tearing up Double-A hitters and making a lot of noise with a 1.03 WHIP and 1.93 ERA. (Though it must be noted Bumgarner's 5.80 strikeout rate wasn't much better than Alderson and he had the exact same FIP as Alderson at 3.53).

So, the situation for Alderson was very obvious: Bumgarner was the lead horse and Alderson was the second-in-line (though, considering at the time how well Scott Barnes was pitching, Alderson was very capable of losing that "second-in-line" status). That made Alderson expendable to the Giants, despite his lofty status when they drafted him.

Just think about it: the Giants have Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Barry Zito set in the rotation going into 2010. Furthermore, they have control of Linceucm until 2014, control of Cain until 2012, control of Sanchez until 2013, and have Zito under contract until at least 2013 (he has a club option for 2014). They're aren't going to let Lincecum or Cain go under any circumstances. Sanchez may go, but that won't happen until a couple of years (worst case scenario: after 2010 if he shows no promise...which I think isn't going to happen). As for Zito, he's untradeable just because his contract is so bad (who wants to pay $57.5 million for a number three pitcher from 2011-2013?)

Therefore, because of the loaded rotation currently, there really is only one spot at the moment in the Giants' rotation and that spot seems to belong to Bumgarner. If Alderson did remain in the Giants' system, when would he have gotten a chance? 2013? 2012 at the soonest? And by then, how great would his stuff be? Sure he's only 20-years-old, but do you trust a guy whose strikeout rate has declined rapidly in each prolongled place of play since 2007?

Which brings me to point number two concerning Alderson's questionable future:

2.) His funky pitching style.

Now I know the experts have said that there was nothing in his mechanics that would warrant worry. Obsessive Giants Compulsive remarked this about Alderson's delivery as well as his tendency to only pitch out of the stretch when he was drafted back in 2007:
Much has been made of #22 Tim Alderson's unusual delivery: he always pitches out of the stretch. As far as I'm concerned, I thought that's great because I don't know how many times I see a pitcher have to throw out of the stretch and suddenly loses his control. Alderson never has to worry about that. His coaches make their high school's pitchers throw out of the stretch in their freshman and sophomore seasons, but allow them to throw normally starting their junior year. Alderson continued doing it, I suppose because of his height, 6'7", which normally would be very hard to coordinate and thus why a lot of tall pitchers are wild and lack control, but since it was working for him already, why mess with success?
So after reading that, Giants fans should've felt fine, right? After all, there was a lot of worry about Lincecum's delivery when he was drafted out of Washington, and so far, he hasn't shown any signs of injury or long-term problems.

That being said, there is one key thing to remember: Alderson is not Lincecum, and if anything, though they are both funky, you can only say Lincecum's mechanics are sound. According to Chris O'Leary of Pitching Mechanics Analysis, Lincecum maximizes his velocity despite his small stature because of his excellent, though unusual-looking, mechanics. That being said, even with his solid mechanics, O'Leary still managed to find some problems with Lincecum's delivery:
Tim Lincecum's pitching mechanics are extremely efficient, which is why such a relatively small guy can throw as hard as he does. However, his delivery is a little max effort, his arm action is a bit borderline, and he shows signs of a timing problem, which is why I don't rate him as highly as I do Justin Verlander or Cliff Lee.
How does this relate to Alderson? Well, in comparison to Lincecum, Alderson has more physical ability than Lincecum: he's taller (6'6) and weighs more than Lincecum (who's 5'7, 170 pounds respectively). Therefore, Alderson physically has a much greater advantage than Lincecum, so there doesn't seem a need for Alderson to have an unusual delivery, because he already has the physical tools to throw hard. If anything, Alderson could have a run-of-the-mill delivery and he'd be fine, just because he's so physically gifted.

Here's the funny thing though: if anything, Alderson's mechanics and pitching style probably hinder his ability to throw hard. Just watch this outing against the A's in Minor League Spring Training last year: doesn't it look like he's just wasting a lot of motion? His body is jerking to one end, his arm is jerking to another. Granted, he strikes out Jemile Weeks, (mostly due to Alderson's great breaking ball), but you just feel that his delivery and style is just not efficient, unlike Lincecum, whom you feel is extremely efficient in pitching motion and delivery.

Furthermore, I can't get over the stretch thing. Granted, he has started to throw out of the windup now, but I just can't believe he didn't pitch out of the windup at all in high school. Sure, it produced great control, but how could you pitch seven innings out of the stretch entirely? It's one thing for a reliever to do it over an inning or two, but five or more? Additionally, he's only been pitching now out of the windup since breaking into pro ball. How's that going to effect his velocity in the future? Is he going to develop bad, injury producing habits because he's still unacquainted with pitching from the windup?

That being said, Alderson could have overcome all those questions, but to me, those issues were just too risky for the Giants management to ignore. Granted, there are some arm and mechanics issues with Bumgarner as well, but Bumgarner is worth taking a risk on because he has prolonged success wherever he has played. You can't really say the same for Alderson thus far.

Overall, you have to be sad that a guy like Alderson is gone from the Giants. There was a ton of potential there. But then again, was he going to live up to it? If anything, I could see Alderson's pitching career turn out like Alyssa Milano's film career.

For those who don't know, Milano had a whole lot of potential and buzz after her role in "Who's the Boss," but roles in some lousy movies (Poison Ivy 2Double Dragon) and her questionable acting skills, proved to be too much for her gorgeous looks to overcome. She had a decent movie (Fear) and a decent television show (Charmed), but for the most part, you can't help but feel she could have done more with her career considering how incredibly attractive she was.

The same would be true with Alderson: a whole lot of potential after a solid high school career and his first two years in pro ball, but a lousy situation that probably will produce bad seasons (it's bound to happen with him on the Pirates), and some questionable pitching skills and delivery issues will most likely prevent him from being anything truly great.

Like I said before, I'm not happy with the Sanchez trade, but considering it was Alderson and not Bumgarner, I can live with it (somewhat).

(By the way, did I really compare an incredibly gorgeous actress to a 6'6 minor league pitcher? You bet ya. Besides, I wanted to find a way to plug Poison Ivy 2 and show a picture of Milano.)


  1. My biggest problem with the trade is not the loss of Alderson, but that we didn't get market value in return. An Alderson/ Barnes combo should have netted the G's some very good talent. They basically gave away two of their best pitching prospects and got squat in return…

  2. That would have been very interesting. The only problem at the time was that there really wasn't all that much on the market. Holliday and Martinez at the time didn't seem to be all that interested in San Francisco, and I can't think of anybody else who would have been worth giving two top pitching prospects away to.

    I didn't like how they gave Garko away (especially considering they signed Aubrey Huff as a replacement for probably more money than they would have had to give to Garko), but at least they still have Sanchez. If we would have lost both guys, I would have been fuming because we would have given away two top prospects for two crappy half-seasons (if that) of Garko and Sanchez